August 10, 2016
It was billed as a career retrospective (“50 Years of Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy and Special Guests”) and for almost three hours, if you count Guy’s 45-minute cooker of an opening set, the potentially jaded Hollywood Bowl crowd was treated to a jaw-dropping display of deep blues, hot licks and dive-bombing Stratocaster forays into the ionosphere of rock. Of course, these were Jeff Beck‘s followers, many of whom had seen him live throughout the various phases of his classic rock career, from the Yardbirds to the days of the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart, out on the Jan Hammer Highway and into the future with Beck’s latest album, Loud Hailer.
Related: Review of Beck’s Loud Hailer
While the set was organized chronologically, the opening tune was the exception. Rosie Bones, the Cockney crooner of Beck’s latest studio configuration, got the crowd in the mood by stalking through it with a flashing-light-festooned movie camera, then hopping up on the stage’s front skirt to pump out Loud Hailer’s “The Revolution Will Be Televised.” (There is no Tal Wilkenfeld in the current lineup. The ever-current Beck has moved on with a new kick-ass femme bassist in Rhonda Smith and the rock-steady rhythm guitarist Carmen Vandenberg.)
Then it was off to the races, with Beck leading his ensemble through a rapid-fire half-dozen Yardbirds and Jeff Beck Group rockers. “Over Under Sideways Down” had the same youthful energy as it did when Beck and the lads were humping their equipment around England in a van with “Yardbirds” painted on the side of it. And “Morning Dew” was handled deftly by Jimmy Hall, standing in for Stewart. The Blow By Blow-era “Freeway Jam” and the heart-rending instrumental “Because We’ve Ended As Lovers” set us up for Beck’s first special guest, Jan Hammer.
Related: Our profile of The Yardbirds
Beck’s collaboration with the keyboardist was the cornerstone of his most creative period, and with this onstage reunion (“I am so thrilled to have the great Jan Hammer on keyboards,” Beck introduced), the faithful were satiated. At one point during their performance of “Blue Wind,” Beck pointed playfully toward Hammer, who took the cue and revved up the synth. The iconic Bowl seemed to take off like a psychedelic flying saucer. Kudos to the lighting techs.
The middle section was a lesson in intergenerational reverence. Beck has surrounded himself with a cast of young players—much like the great bluesmen, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and, yes, Buddy Guy, have done. And they play the master’s music with a fresh energy that comes from respect. This was illustrated by the soulful Beth Hart, a belter in the Janis Joplin-Judy Henske tradition, and Guy himself, who is always playful and pugnacious, yet eminently soulful.
So it seemed appropriate that after Guy left the stage, in walked the Reverend Billy F. Gibbons for a rousing rendition of “Rough Boy” and a slightly comical version of “16 Tons,” written by Merle Travis and popularized by Tennessee Ernie Ford (“another day older and deeper in debt”). Some in the crowd perked up when Steven Tyler pranced out, and it was, as Spock used to say, only logical that he did a version of Tiny Bradshaw’s “Train Kept a-Rollin’,” a song covered by both the Yardbirds and Aerosmith.
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The encores, two of them, were another youthful bow to the classics: a nod to John Lennon with “A Day in the Life,” which Beck first recorded back in 2003, and a rousing homage to Prince, which had Hart wailing and Tyler taking a back seat for a change with singers Hall and Bones on “Purple Rain.” Which underscores the main takeaway that Jeff Beck is a class act indeed. The crowd was all a-flutter as they inched their way to the parking lot. They saw the shape of things and it was good.